BARCELONA, Venezuela -- For Colorado Rockies righty Jhoulys Chacin, to be able to wear his home country's jersey in the World Baseball Classic was something worth fighting for.
"I'm extremely happy," Chacin said. "This is a great opportunity for me and a dream come true, nonetheless. It's amazing to see everything happening like we expected to. God willing, nothing wrong will happen and I hope I can support my fellow countrymen in the best way possible. And I hope we will win the tournament, of course."
Chacin, a Maracaibo native, has prepared himself in order to avoid the biggest risks a pitcher might face when he tries to rush his work plans in order to go to the Classic, a situation that scares fans, team executives and insurers alike. He pitched with Leones del Caracas, his team in the Venezuelan Winter League, and has insisted all throughout the offseason he is healthy. Finally, he got the good news via a phone call from Venezuela manager Luis Sojo.
"They told me my arm was fine, and that the physical found no issues. So, I can be finally included on the roster, so there are no problems to be found by the insurance company handling these issues. Therefore, I'm pitching for team Venezuela," Chacin said. The 25-year-old right-hander hopes he is able to reconcile the expectations from both Colorado and the Venezuelan squad.
"I still have to talk and get agreements in place with both the Rockies and the Venezuelan national team. We must understand what the intentions of each one of them are. I will respect both the Rockies and the Venezuelan team, headed by Sojo and [pitching coach] Wilson Alvarez. I will pitch with the Rockies next Tuesday, Feb. 26, and the rest is still to be determined," Chacin said. "I told the Rockies my next outing should be as a starter, that way I will be able to be better prepared. If I pitch next Tuesday, then my next appearance should be on March 2-3. Depending on the outcome, I could stay here in Arizona or go and train in Miami".
For Chacin, getting near the pitch limit for Classic starters in the Second Round is not very different from what he usually does during Spring Training.
"I believe I'm ready to throw 75 pitches in a game at that level. I've been doing bullpen practices with approximately 50 pitches each. The workload in a typical Spring Training start is about 50-60 pitches. So there isn't much of a difference", Chacin said.
During the offseason, Chacin has worked out with Alvarez, a former big leaguer, and is pleased with the results and confident his tutelage during the Classic will keep him on the right track.
"I'm trying to keep on working with everything Wilson has taught me," he said. "He has also put me in a regime so I can improve my pitching mechanics. He is very knowledgeable on what I need to improve on as a pitcher, and keeps on telling me how to strengthen my arm in the best way possible."
All technicalities, counts and pitching limits aside, the fact Chacin will finally be able to defend his national pride is something that excites him.
"It will be not unlike the moment I stepped on a Major League mound for the first time -- a unique experience. I have no words to describe it. To be able to wear my country's jersey will be something great," Chacin said. "I'm preparing myself like I've always had, to throw in any instance of the game.
"My arm is great, that's the most important thing. I just need to focus myself on throwing strikes and getting batters out. I will do the work Venezuela needs of me. Once the Classic is done, I will play for the Rockies, giving my best. I will work on improving my consistency, which is paramount. That's what I'll do in Spring Training, during the Classic and all throughout the Major League Season."
Rafael Rojas Cremonesi is a contributor to MLB.com.